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The Man Behind the Magic

The Man Behind the Magic

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Tom Pace is more than a name in Pensacola’s maritime history; he’s a living embodiment of its seafaring legacy, a legacy that runs deep in his family’s roots, tracing back to the late 18th century. Raised in a household where the love for the open waters was as intrinsic as the air they breathed, Tom’s journey into the maritime world began long before he could even walk, thanks to his parents and big sisters.

Tom Pace

“My mother’s family arrived here in 1781 with the Galvez Commission,” Tom reminisces. “My parents were heavy water people. My Dad, in particular, was a boater of all sorts. He raced sailboats to Cuba in 1947 and 1948 before Castro took over. “We spent all of our summers and most of our winters on boats, and my sisters taught me to ski and run the ski boat the way they did … So, I just grew up in a world surrounded by boats.”

Indeed, the Pace family’s connection to the Pensacola Yacht Club runs deep, with Tom’s grandfather, A.D. Pace, being a pivotal figure in its history. “My grandfather founded the current Pensacola Yacht Club location for the club,” Tom proudly states. “His brother John C Pace (my great uncle) was a 4-time Commodore of the PYC. They convinced the members this was best for the future of the Club, and it really is the most perfect location.”

Planche MagTom’s own journey as a member of the Pensacola Yacht Club began as an infant the first time his parents Tom and Mary brought him into the Club in 1960. He would become a regular active member of the Club in 1981, marking the start of a lifelong pursuit of sailing and competing in 37 countries around the world as first an amateur, and then as a professional. However, it was his pivotal role in organizing the 2018 Opti Nationals that truly set the stage for his future endeavors. “We had over 130 volunteers that fantastically handled the 301 kid racers and a total of 750 visitors to the Club for that regatta,” Tom recalls. “The event had a significant local impact, generating approximately $1.63 million for Pensacola. It was a realization that boating and sailing events could thrive here. That was the beginning of teaming up with fellow sailors Talbot Wilson and Hal Smith to showcase Pensacola Bay and how the local community could benefit from sailing events.

American Magic Boating

It was during this time that Tom’s path intersected with American Magic, the renowned American yacht racing team. “I was the host of the American Magic presentation at the Saenger Theater,” Tom explains. “Afterward, Talbot Wilson, Hal Smith, and I regularly pitched Pensacola as an ideal location for their training base, showcasing the city’s maritime infrastructure and resources.”

Tom’s efforts bore fruit when American Magic decided to relocate to Pensacola, a move that solidified Tom’s reputation as Pensacola’s maritime ambassador. “From the first cycle to where we are now, we shifted from just a part-time training location to possibly being a Pensacola Yacht Club challenge for the cup, to becoming the full-time training base and proudly becoming a Pensacola sponsor of the Team,” Tom reflects. “It’s a testament to the collaborative spirit of Pensacola.” American Magic wants to continue to be an active community partner with Pensacola, and will pick up where they left off as soon as they return to Pensacola.”

Dock and Sailing

Under Tom and Hal Smith’s guidance, Pensacola embraced its role as a premier sailing destination, attracting global attention and fostering economic growth. “We’ve gone from that humble start to having our PENSACOLA on American Magic’s sails,” Tom says with pride. “It’s about developing Pensacola as a center for performance sailing and ancillary businesses that will have an ever-increasing contribution to Pensacola beyond the Team’s training and the regattas we host here.”

Looking ahead, Tom remains committed to Pensacola’s maritime future, with numerous national and international sailing events already in the works. “It’s about working together to ensure that Pensacola continues to benefit from this mission,” Tom emphasizes. “ Let’s not forget that the local junior sailors have begun to compete nationally across the USA and internationally, and our top-level local racers continue to win across the Gulf Yachting Association and in open water races to Mexico, Cuba, and the Bahamas as well. This is growing and improving at every level.”

Tom Pace Speaking

In Tom Pace, Pensacola has found a true champion of its coastal heritage—a visionary leader whose passion for sailing has not only helped to secure Pensacola’s place on the global stage but has also ignited a new era of maritime excellence in the city. Along with the lifelong efforts of local sailors at Pensacola Beach, Navy, and Pensacola Yacht Clubs and these latest steps with Collier Merrill, Ellis Bullock, and Mayor DC Reeves, Pensacola can’t lose.

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